The Caribbean tourism industry is pushing its message that the region, or most of it, is open for business following September's hurricanes, and the Caribbean Tourism Organization's chairman Dionisio D'Aguilar delivered a frank assessment at the World Travel Market in London last week.

While acknowledging that "some countries were absolutely devastated by the hurricanes, 75% of the Caribbean was largely unaffected, which means that we will have to spend millions of dollars on marketing to say that 75% of us are not devastated."

Caribbean visitor numbers had been on track for a record year, growing at a healthy pace of 5.2% year over year between January and June. More than 16.6 million international tourist arrivals were recorded in that six-month period, well ahead of the forecast growth rate of 2.5% to 3.5%.

"We had the best of times, with record performances in the first half of the year, and for some of our member countries, and by extension the region, the worst of times with the storms' passage," D'Aguilar said.

He said that widespread coverage of the damage caused by the hurricanes, the most serious being to Anguilla, Barbuda, the British Virgin Island, Dominica, Puerto Rico, St. Maarten/Martin and the U.S. Virgin Islands, understandably triggered an overall slowdown in visitors.

"Consequently we have revised our forecast for 2017 to between 1% and 2% growth, with a similar rate projected for next year," D'Aguilar said.

D'Aguilar also is minister of tourism for the Bahamas, which was largely unscathed by storms except for its far southern region, including Ragged, Acklins and Crooked islands.

Numbers for post-hurricane tourist arrivals are not yet in, although redeployments of cruise ships from damaged ports to alternative ports have benefitted certain countries, such as Curacao, Grenada and Jamaica.

The minister did point out that some facilities on many of the damaged islands are partially open, depending upon restoration of power and water, pace of rebuilding and adequate manpower and skilled workers.

D'Aguilar's final message echoed the one repeated by many tourism leaders in a region where tourism drives the economic life of all the islands: "The best way to help the Caribbean is to travel to the Caribbean."

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